Kokomo — A statewide smoking ban or stricter local ordinances could be a gain for electronic cigarette vendors, shop owners said.
There have been few conclusive studies about what is going into the lungs of electronic cigarette smokers and anyone near them. That has left debates open on whether the government should regulate them as if they were traditional tobacco products.
The owners of Kokomo’s two brick-and-mortar electronic cigarette stores said they are leery of a ban on the products they sell. But if restrictions crack down on traditional cigarettes while leaving the electronic types alone, they see a bigger and better market to sell into.
Smokers use the plastic and metal devices by snapping cartridges onto batteries. The batteries send a current into the cartridges, which contain a nicotine liquid. The liquid then turns into a vapor that can be inhaled.
The idea is to give smokers a nicotine fix without letting all the same chemicals as tobacco cigarettes, such as tar, into their lungs. The amount of nicotine in an e-cigarette can vary, including no nicotine.
People who use electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, have nicknamed themselves “vapers” and the usage of the devices as “vaping.”
Organizations such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and tobacco cessation groups have voiced concerns about e-cigarettes and are considering ways to regulate them.
An Electrified Industry
Analysts predict e-cigarettes and their accessories to earn between $200 million and $250 million nationwide this year.
Traditional cigarettes continue to overshadow the electronic version. Big Tobacco company Philip Morris International Inc. alone reported about $67.8 billion in revenue for 2010 and almost $7.3 billion in profits.
But e-cigarettes have been rapidly gaining market share since distributors introduced them to the U.S. a few years ago, advocates say.
In Howard County, where the University of Wisconsin estimates one out of four adults smoke, vendors expect the electronic cigarette market to take off as the devices become better known.
“They’ve been such a big buzz,” said Jeff Lamberson Jr., co-owner of Kokomo Pure Vapors on South Washington Street. “People are getting to know about them.”
Lamberson’s is one of two exclusively e-cigarette stores that opened in Kokomo this year, the other being Vapor Place on Buckeye Street in downtown Kokomo.
E-cigarettes have worked their way into NASCAR. Green Smoke, the brand Vapor Place owner Rachael Polk sells at her store, has sponsored driver T.J. Bell’s car.
“It’s really only going to get better from here,” Polk said.
Benefit or Bane on E-Cigs?
Unlike tobacco cigarettes, federal, state and local governments do not regulate e-cigarettes. That means patrons can “vape” in restaurants and other public places in Kokomo and the rest of Indiana unless the businesses have banned the devices.
Kokomo in 2006 banned smoking in all public places, except for bars and private clubs.
The Howard County Tobacco Coalition, which was a major advocate of the ’06 ban, has said it wants to strengthen the Kokomo ban to also cover the currently exempt businesses or have a countywide ban.
Before pushing local government leaders to consider stricter bans, the group is waiting to see what happens at the state level and what the best approach, if any, would be at the local level, said Shirley Dubois, coordinator for the anti-tobacco group.
A statewide smoking ban has repeatedly emerged in recent years. A ban most recently collapsed in the Indiana Legislature after supporters stopped backing the bill, saying it allowed for too many exemptions.
If stricter smoking bans go into place, Lamberson and Polk said stricter laws could help their businesses depending on which way the regulations went on e-cigarettes.
“We’re just counting the days for Kokomo to bring up that ban because they’ll send everybody right here,” Lamberson said.
States Take stands
The American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation has drafted model legislation for states to look at when writing their own smoking ban bills. Part of the model includes restrictions on e-cigarettes.
Leaders in other states have found reasons not to restrict e-cigarettes.
Virginia’s attorney general has stated vapors from e-cigarettes do not come from tobacco, so the devices don’t fall under tobacco laws, according to the AP.
Karla Sneegas, who heads Indiana’s tobacco cessation program, said it is too early to know if e-cigarettes will become part of a statewide smoking ban if one ever passes.
“What I can tell you is that the model legislation that is recommended by [the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation], they are encouraging e-cigarettes to be included in legislation,” Sneegas said.
Delaware County included e-cigarettes in a stricter ordinance it passed earlier this month, she added, but the county pulled out the devices before a final vote.
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